Emily Lau, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Education, explains the importance of using the Arts to help children express their emotions and support wellbeing.

Its Mental Health Awareness Week and a Barnado’s survey reports that 83% of children at age 16 are concerned about stress at school. One in ten young people have a diagnosed mental health condition, and half of all mental health conditions are established before the age of 14.

The Government’s recent Green Paper has urged schools to intervene early and prevent problems escalating, yet the culture schools are operating under, one of high stake accountability and declining levels of funding, is not only a factor is the rise of mental health issues, but also an insurmountable barrier in tackling the problems.

I have been working with university partner, the Fair Education Alliance, a coalition of organisations from across education, charities and business working together to tackle educational inequality. We have been lobbying government for recognition that social and emotional learning is the most critical part of every individual’s development. The alliance argues that the Arts are key for children to learn how to express their emotions, develop skills such as self-regulation and an important part of happiness and wellbeing. For those who may find more traditional academic learning difficult, the arts are a lifeline.

Our fear is that monitoring like Progress 8 have led schools to make impossible choices. Often those choices have led to the difficult decision to lose programmes, teachers and activities within the Arts.

The number of art teachers has fallen by 11% since 2010, while music has been removed from the curriculum in many schools. These results are alarming and not unrelated to the rising numbers of children we see reporting cases of anxiety and depression.

Last year the Faculty of Education introduced the PG Cert in Social and Emotional Learning. Delivered as part of our long-standing partnership with national charity, Family Links – The Centre for Emotional Health, the course focuses on how to ensure children and teachers’ emotional health is at the centre of every school. On 24th May, we will hold one of our open twilight sessions where students and other emotional health practitioners speak about wellbeing. This month’s theme is Mindful Approaches to Positive Mental Health in Schools. We will be joined by Martha Wright, alumna and founder of Mindful Music, who will share her evidence based music and reflection programme underpinned by the mindful values of curiosity and awareness.

It is imperative that we fight the worrying trend to roll back the Arts in favour of core subjects. While the battle is still very much ongoing at the policy level, interventions likes Mindful Music and courses like the PG Cert continue to support teachers, staff and children to ensure their learning environment is a creative, safe and happy one.

 

For more details of our next twilight or the PGCert in Social and Emotional Learning visit the Faculty of Education or contact wendy.cobb@canterbury.ac.uk. For information about  the Fair Education Alliance please contact emily.lau@canterbury.ac.uk